Even if your life is full, there are many reasons you might feel lonely. Friendships shift, family dynamics can be complicated, and it may feel harder and harder to meet new people. So when the places you once made connections have changed but your desire to be social hasn’t, you can feel increasingly isolated, says Hope Kelaher, a licensed clinical social worker. You could find yourself wondering how to make friends as an adult—and you wouldn’t be alone in that question.
Being social can do a lot for your overall health, says Marc Milstein, Ph.D., a professional speaker on brain health and the author of The Age-Proof Brain. He says studies have found that socializing can strengthen the immune system, lower the risk of dementia, and lessen memory loss. This is because social situations allow you to learn new things, which is essential in cognitive functioning and stress management. Additionally, friendships can reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation, says Kelaher. Here are three steps to take if you want to make new friends at any time in your life.
Think about yourself first
Start by making a list of what you’re interested in, what you’ve always wanted to do, and things you’d try in an ideal world, says Whitney Goodman, L.M.F.T., a family relationship expert and the author of Toxic Positivity. Consider things you could learn, like an instrument or a new language, that might be avenues for connecting with people who share your interests while boosting your brainpower, Milstein adds. Then come up with themes like travel or creative expression that you can begin to explore with others who have similar interests.
Find an “anchor activity”
Focus on pinpointing a single new place to visit or class you can attend to serve as a central point as you take the next steps toward making friends. Try a religious center, gym, community center, or volunteer opportunity that will allow you to pursue the passions on your list, Kelaher suggests. If you live in a remote area, she recommends signing up for a group trip or joining an online community through social media, online university classes, or sites.
Mark your calendar
Choose three days a week to deem “social days” on your calendar. Plan something physical, like a workout class, for the first day; schedule a brain-boosting activity, like an art class, next; and plan for a more social activity, like a book club, on the third day, Milstein suggests. Once you’re in a social situation, Kelaher says, be vulnerable and engage with other people. Introduce yourself to someone as soon as you walk in. Ask if they’ve been there before and what brought them to the event, Goodman adds. And before you leave, create touchpoints to continue the conversation, like asking whether they’ll be at the next meeting.
Keep it up
“Friendship is like dating: It takes one person to take it to the next level and invite someone out,” Kelaher says. After attending events, challenge yourself to reach out to people you felt a connection with and schedule a phone call, walk, or coffee date. Then as return invitations come flooding in, try to say yes to as many as possible, Kelaher adds. Finally, be sure to set reminders for birthdays and special occasions so you’ll always have an excuse to reach out to friends old and new.
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Arielle Weg is the associate editor at Prevention and loves to share her favorite wellness and nutrition obsessions. She previously managed content at The Vitamin Shoppe, and her work has also appeared in Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cooking Light, MyRecipes, and more. You can usually find her taking an online workout class or making a mess in the kitchen, creating something delicious she found in her cookbook collection or saved on Instagram.